On September 21, 2023, the Biden administration outlined plans to expand federal agencies’ consideration of the social cost of carbon—a metric for the economic cost of each additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere. This announcement tilts the balance of cost-benefit analyses in favor of activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it could have widespread effects for entities that receive federal funding or are subject to federal regulation.… More
Category Archives: environmental impact statement
Proposed NEPA Rules Address Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and Efficiency of Environmental Reviews
On July 28, 2023, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposed reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations governing how federal agencies review the environmental effects of major federal projects. The proposed rules follow amendments to NEPA itself that were enacted in June 2023 through the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, which addressed, among other things, the federal debt ceiling.… More
Last week, Judge Donald Malloy vacated the Environmental Assessment for the Bull Mountains Mine No. 1 in central Montana. Judge Malloy had already vacated the EA once; when the 9th Circuit affirmed Judge Malloy’s decision that the EA violated NEPA, it remanded the case for new findings as to whether vacatur would be appropriate.
The default rule is that when agency action has been struck down,… More
Does Environmental Review of Projects Needed for a Net-Zero Economy Lead to a Death By a Thousand Cuts?
Earlier this week, the decision in Bartell Ranch v. McCullough generally supported the Bureau of Land Management’s review under NEPA and related statutes of a lithium mine near Thacker Pass, Nevada. If approved, Thacker Pass would be the largest lithium mine in the United States. The decision and the entire review of the mine are important, given how controversial large mining projects can be and how important lithium and other minerals are to building a zero-emission economy.… More
On Friday, I posted about a decision invalidating BLM Resource Manage Plans for failure to comply with NEPA. My caption was “NEPA Is Still Going to Pose an Obstacle to Leasing Public Lands for Fossil Fuel Extraction.” Little did I know how prescient I was, because later on Friday, Judge Brian Morris – the same judge who invalidated the RMPs – went farther and reinstated the moratorium on leasing of public lands for coal mining that had been implemented by then-Secretary Jewell in 2016. … More
So CEQ has proposed to amend the NEPA regulations in order to eliminate some of the changes made by the Trump Administration in 2020. Important changes include:
- explicit consideration of indirect impacts
- renewed emphasis on consideration of cumulative impacts
- elimination of the requirement that there be “a reasonably close causal relationship” between a proposed action and a potential impact,…
On August 3, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals held that FERC could not avoid use of the social cost of carbon in assessing the impacts of natural gas projects by arguing that “there is no universally accepted methodology.” Given the growing recognition of the significant role FERC is going to have in combatting climate change, it’s an important decision.
FERC acknowledged that construction and operation of the projects under review would “contribute incrementally to future climate change impacts.” However,… More
Earlier this Month, Judge James Boasberg, who had previously ruled that the easement allowing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline must be vacated due to a failure to comply with NEPA, nonetheless declined to issue an injunction requiring that the pipeline cease operations. The Court’s rationale was clear and straightforward. The Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Boasberg could not enjoin use of the pipeline without finding that all elements of the four-factor test for an injunction had been met. … More
The President today formally announced that the United States was pledging to reduce its emissions by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030. The announcement isn’t a surprise, but that doesn’t lessen its importance. So large a reduction will be a heavy lift, particularly in a federal system where many states are still not exactly with the program.
So how will this Administration get us on a path to 50%?… More
Since I noted earlier this week the announcement by ConocoPhillips that its “ambition” is to reach net-zero carbon for its own operations by 2045-2055, it seemed appropriate also to note that BLM has now approved the Willow Master Development Plan, which will authorize ConocoPhillips to produce almost 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
On Wednesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the injunction requiring the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s a victory for the operator, Energy Transfer LP, simply because it lives to fight another day. From a legal point of view, however, I wouldn’t take that much comfort from the decision.
The basis for the stay was that the District Court did not make explicit findings on the need for an injunction. … More
CEQ has finalized revisions to the NEPA regulations. I don’t have too much to add to my post on the proposed rule back in January. NEPA needs reform. These regulations, however, are not the reform NEPA needs.
The rule largely tracks the proposed rule. It is worth noting, however, that, contrary to this administration’s frequently cavalier attitude toward judicial review, they have made a few tweaks to increase the likelihood that the rule will survive review. … More
I don’t like to speculate, so I won’t say that July 6, 2020, was the beginning of the end of fossil fuel infrastructure in the United States. I will say, with apologies to Judith Viorst, that it was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Ever since President Nixon visited China, significantly contributing to a thawing of the Cold War, the phrase “Nixon in China” has referred to any situation where a leader makes a policy move that would have been more expected by a leader of the opposition party. The notion is that such surprising acts of statesmanship can unlock political gridlock.
Unfortunately, Nixon in China moments are notable precisely because they are so rare. … More
Last week, Federal District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a preliminary injunction to various NGOs, barring the Bureau of Land Management from implementing amendments BLM had made in 2019 to protection plans for the sage grouse promulgated by BLM in 2015. It makes compelling reading. In 29 pages, it pretty much summarizes everything the Trump administration has done in the environmental arena, and how courts have reacted.… More
In 2016, DOI Secretarial Order 3338 imposed a moratorium on new coal leases on federal land until BLM prepared a programmatic environmental impact statement intended to address, among other issues, the impact of coal leasing on climate change.
Times do change. In 2018, DOI Secretarial Order 3348 eliminated the moratorium and the requirement to prepare a PEIS. Litigation ensued.
Last week,… More
Last week, a federal judge once more rejected the Environmental Assessment for the expansion of the Spring Creek Mine in Montana. The case does not really break any new ground, but it does add to the growing number of cases in which courts have rejected federal action approving a variety of large facilities related to energy production in one way or another. The crux of this case was the failure of the EA to consider downstream,… More
Earlier this month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision that is a must-read for anyone who will be needing at some point to relicense an existing hydroelectric facility. The short version is the status quo may no longer be good enough and dam operators may have to improve on existing conditions in order to succeed in relicensing. At a minimum, facility operators will have to take the cumulative impacts of dam operation into account in performing environmental assessments under NEPA required for relicensing.… More
BLM Loses Another One: Resource Management Plans for Coal Leasing Areas Are Sent Back to the Drawing Board
Late last month, Judge Brian Morris granted summary judgment to plaintiffs on three claims alleging that the environmental impact analysis supported BLM’s Resource Management Plans for managing coal leases in the Powder River Basis were flawed. It’s a very thoughtful decision. Judge Morris rejected three of plaintiffs’ claims and did not provide the injunctive relief that they sought. Nonetheless, it’s an important setback for BLM and further evidence that courts are going to require more of BLM in assessing climate impacts associated with energy resource development.… More
President Trump’s infrastructure plan includes a number of important proposals. My initial reaction is consistent with my view of many of the President’s initiatives – he gives regulatory reform a bad name. We do need to reform the way we implement infrastructure projects in the US, but this President is not the one to lead the effort.
Here are some of the problems I see.
Last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a District Court decision approving a decision by the Bureau of Land Management to approve new leases on mines that account for 20% of U.S. coal production. The decision is just the latest in a series of cases making clear that courts will not approve new – or renewed – energy production that does not appropriately address the impacts of a project on climate change.… More
Last week, a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that FERC violated NEPA in failing to assess downstream greenhouse gas emissions resulting from construction of the Sabal Trail pipeline, part of the Southeast Market Pipelines Project. If the decision stands, it is going to have a very significant impact on review and development of gas pipelines.
(Full disclosure – Foley Hoag represents NextEra,… More
Earlier this week, the Judge Donald Malloy of the District Court for the District of Montana granted summary judgment to the Montana Environmental Information Center on several of its claims alleging that the Office of Surface Mining had violated NEPA in approving a modification of a mining plan to expand the Bull Mountains Mine No. 1. The decision is important for two reasons.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals just denied en banc review in a case involving the Fish & Wildlife Service’s designation of critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog. There are only 100 of these “shy” frogs left, and none of them live in the area in Louisiana designated as critical habitat by the FWS.
The focus of the panel decision – and both the panel dissent and the dissent from the denial of en banc review – was whether private land could be considered critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog if no frogs live in the area and the area could not currently support the frog.… More
In one of the first acts of his presidency, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order entitled “Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects”, with a stated goal of streamlining environmental permitting for infrastructure projects.
The order establishes a process by which the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality may be petitioned to designate an infrastructure project as “high priority”. … More
Last week, Judge Michael Fitzgerald granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs in a citizen suit alleging that BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement prepared to address whether to open certain lands in California to mineral development was inadequate. Judge Fitzgerald concluded that the EIS pretty much completely failed to address the potential risks of fracking and that, as a result, the EIS did not comply with NEPA.… More
In an interesting decision last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges to BLM’s decision to issue a right-of-way permit for Tule Wind’s plan for a wind farm southeast of San Diego. It’s not exactly earthshattering, but it is a helpful decision both for decisionmakers reviewing wind farm applications and for wind farm developers. Here are some of the highlights:
- BLM’s inclusion of DOI’s goal under the 2005 Energy Policy Act to increase nonhydropower renewable energy on federal lands as part of the “purpose and need”…
Earlier this month, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum on “Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment.” If that portentous title isn’t enough to make developers quiver in their boots, how about this first line?
We all have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave America’s natural resources in better condition than when we inherited them.… More
No Short Cuts Allowed: The FWS Must Comply with NEPA Before Extending Programmatic Take Permits to 30 Years
Earlier this month, the Judge Lucy Koh set aside the Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision to extend its programmatic permit for bald and golden eagle takes from five to 30 years. The extension was sought by the wind industry for the obvious reason that the uncertainty attached to a five-year permit makes financing a 20- or 30-year project very difficult. I agree with the concern and support the extension,… More
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Northern Pass Transmission, LLC’s proposed 187-mile transmission line across the United States-Canada border in New Hampshire.
If approved, the line would have the ability to deliver 1200 MW of hydroelectric power from Quebec into southern New England—a potentially tantalizing amount of power for policymakers seeking to diversify the region’s generation portfolio and lower its GHG emissions.… More